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The Irony of the Protest

June 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Not that one. The gay pride parades in various cities over the last few weeks don’t gain much notice to me for the simple reason that I don’t like parades unless I’m in them. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of standing around and waiting.

No, I want to draw attention to the anti-Sharia demonstrations that happened. You know of which I speak, where a few dozen “Real ‘Mericans'” decided to protest against a thing that wasn’t happening, isn’t happening, and is nearly impossible to happen. I think the joke about these protests is that they might as well be protesting against term limits for unicorns.

Let’s play hypothetical here and figure out the steps it would take to get just one Sharia law in place. First you would have to have a city or municipality that has enough of a Muslim population in the US to create the demand for the law. Where is that place?

Our best bet would be Detroit. The city of…Robocop? Or is brotherly love? I forget which. In either case a quick search of the demographic breakdown of Detroit shows that Wayne County in Detroit, with an astonishingly high Jesus denying percentage of 3.5% of the population. That’s pretty small, the “nones” (my people I guess) make up a whopping 54% of the population. We’re more likely to get a statue of Lawrence Krauss in the middle of the county than we are just one Sharia Law on the books, but I suppose the entire area could be Gerrymandered like Austin Texas and maybe that would gain the Islamic population a whole seat on the city council.

Step 2: Now that we have our population we need to get our demand. So what law? Sharia law is just Islamic religious law, and like literally every other religion adherence to the law depends on two main things: the place where you were born and what family you were born into. If we even assume that there are no half-assed Muslims, i.e. the equivalent of those Catholics that only go to church on Christmas, Easter, and whatever family event is occurring (funerals and weddings), there’s still a Sunni/Shia divide that we’d have to assume away for the sake of our experiment. Most Iraqis, which are the sect that immigrated to Detroit in the 80s, are Shia so we’ll just run with that. Not that it really matters because I’m not to up to date on religious laws regarding particular sects of Islam. So let’s just run with a bill that forces women to wear the head scarf in public.

Step 3: Pass the bill. How on Earth could this be done? Unless the group took over every seat on the city council, then the mayor’s office, they would still end up fighting for the law in court. There’s no way that one of the numerous Christian nut jobs like Ken Ham, wouldn’t file a suit against the law before it was passed. There’s no way that the Freedom From religion Foundation or the ACLU wouldn’t file a suit before the law was passed. An executive order couldn’t get this one through.

However, since we’re in the imaginative dream land, let’s assume it was passed. Now it still has to contend with first amendment lawsuits. Now, this would be interesting because all of the Christians who argue for prayer in school love to point out that the “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution so they would have to either admit that the Islamic head scarf law was fine because that’s what the people wanted or they would have to eat crow admitting that it was just a convenience argument for them. Nevertheless, we not only have two hundred years of court cases forming a firm foundation for the excise of religious laws, but also the guy who wrote the Amendment explaining the “separation of church and state” as what he meant. The law wouldn’t make it through the local court.

Unless they took over the local court, in which case it would still be fought at the state level, and there’s no way we can reasonably pretend (or unreasonably) as we have done thus far that the state of Michigan would get an Islamic majority or take over the court system.

Again, we’ve had to assume that this fictional Islamic majority would also want the law.

So what is the protest about? Stoking fear of something that cannot happen in order to make other people feel special. I’ve never read the Man of la Mancha, but I’m told that this is like that. Tilting at windmills, because it’s easy to fight an imaginary enemy than a real one.

I opened this post mentioning the pride parades for a reason. I wonder how many of the people who attended these Anti-Sharia law protests are also on board with LGBT equality. I’m guessing there’s very little overlap between the two on a Venn diagram. I wonder how many of those same people are in board with equal rights between the sexes and think that a woman should maintain autonomy over her own body. Do any of these anti-Sharia people think that there ought to be prayer in schools and that the government should be showing Christmas/Easter displays?

Don’t let them lie about it: this has nothing to do with freedom. The irony of the protests is that these people want the exact same thing that those who would like Sharia law want: religious theocracy. It’s just they want their religion to be the one in charge and not someone else’s. It’s why they get so upset if a school decides not to serve bacon during Ramadan but see absolutely nothing wrong with the same school serving fish on Fridays during Lent. They have more in common with ISIS than they would ever admit.

How to Convert an Atheist III

May 9, 2017 2 comments

Part III of our story…(Primary source here)

Part 3: Keeping the Dialog Open

Step 1: Walk the walk

Walk the walk is an interesting piece of advice, and it seems like it should have nothing to do with the current situation. The author recommends that Ned does not try and convert with words but to demonstrate with “spirit and power.” This an interesting intersection or words versus deeds, and there’s some conflict amongst the various sects of Christianity as to whether it is actually merely belief, or belief and actions, or actions. Pragmatically, this would be great advice at Part I step 1: Just be a good person and shut the hell up, they might come around. End of guide. It ends with this gem: “Some atheists are atheists because of their often-justified perception that Christians are hypocritical. But you know they’re not all that way. Prove it.”

You know like all of those anti-immigration, anti-helping the poor, Christians who think you need to believe in Jesus in order to be a good person but then have a political platform that states “what’s is mine is mine and no one else can have it.” Directly contradicting the actual words of the Bible and the Jesus character in it that they like so much. So don’t be a hypocrite, generally that’s good advice.

Step 2: Invite Your Friend to Come with You to Church

Yeah, thanks, no.

I can find other ways to be bored on Sunday…watching a Bills game for instance. Or listen to someone talk about a Bills game. I’d say sleeping, but I like doing that.

The advice goes on to say that Ned should invite the person to a non-service function, more of a social event than an actual mass. Even I go to these things, but isn’t that just being a nice person? I like doing X, you want to come to X? Personally I’d stay away from fund raisers, because that’s not going to help the atheist to the cause. Unless there’s beer and fried chicken, because then you actually get something out of it. The author stresses that Ned be clear to their friend that it is a religious function.

This is excellent behavior. When Passion of the Christ was in theaters, one of the mega-churches near Toledo roped a friend of mine into going. He was Pakistani and non-religious, but also very lonely. A very pretty girl chatted him up at the gym he went to and asked him to a movie. He, rightfully, thought that if it was not a date, then it was at least a friend type thing, but it wasn’t just the two of them: it was a church function. They sent people out to trick them into seeing the movie. You start out with a lie, or deception; it’s not going to end well. My friend thought the movie was “meh,” but was super pissed that he had been deceived.

Step 3: Be Patient

Don’t be pushy. Good advice.

Yet the general tone of the guide has changed here. The assumption is now that the religion has something the non-believer wants and just isn’t aware of. Look, this is America, and though we do not have an official religion and were not founded on religious principles of Christianity; the odds are 7/10 people you meet are Christian. This is a very religious country…at least in words. If an Atheist, who is statistically the child of a religious person, isn’t aware of Christianity there’s something very odd about that. Ned having a special club that he goes to once a week, might make his friend want to go, but other than the “I’m into Jesus” part what else is being offered  that the atheist doesn’t already know?

Step 4: Be Persistent

Ned is supposed to show how practical the religion is through his relationships with his Christian friends. What about when this backfires? I have relationships with all kinds of friends of various backgrounds. I can pal around with whoever I want: people that plant different crops in the same field, women that deign to have authority over a man, idolaters, I even met a Satanist. Like Machiavelli said, the hell bound are a lot more interesting.

Variety is the spice of life, as the adage goes, why on Earth would I only want to hang out with one kind of person?

Step 5 If you Want to Pray for Your Friend, Do it in Private

Sure, if reasoned debate doesn’t work, try hoping.

Ending a conversation wherein Ned has failed to convince the atheist with “I will pray for you,” the author remarks can be seen as rude. And yes, it certainly can. As often times it’s a condescending remark that implies the person’s soul is going to be eternally tortured and Ned hopes that it’s not. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “god bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s really a contextual thing, but it’s best, if you’re unsure to just keep it to yourself. The author gives the reasoning: “If God is going to answer your prayer and convert the atheist, then he would do so whether the atheist hears it or not. 

We kind of know the answer to this don’t we: He’s not or else he would have by now. Remember this is an all-powerful being that could very easily come on the television/internet/radio and just proclaim its existence. Instead, it decides to hide behind a 2000 year-ish old book, through several dead languages translated into several other languages in the hopes we decipher the clue like a shitty version of the Da Vinci Code. Maybe the Christian should remember that if god wanted to convert the atheists he could easily do so with an obvious sign and the attempting to convert people who are otherwise happy with their lives isn’t necessary. Just live and be happy. Stop worrying about what other people do or believe in as long as it harms no one.

As a summary though: this guide wasn’t as bad as I feared. Most of it was just talk, keep an open mind, and don’t be a dick about it. Unfortunately it runs under an assumption that people who aren’t Christians, don’t understand it. It’s endemic to the guide, because in their worldview, if you knew about it you would have to be one. That’s ultimately the problem with this guide.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Persuade An Atheist to Become a Christian II

May 2, 2017 5 comments

Continuing last week’s post. Here’s the primary source.

This is a weird instruction manual. It’s broken up into steps, that’s obvious, but it’s also broken up into parts. Yet there’s no real indication that each part/step should be building off of the previous. I’m not sure I should even call them “steps” but I did last week so I’m going to continue with that.

Part II: Talking About Your Faith

Step I: Tell Your Friend What Christianity Means to You

This one comes with a picture of the atheist wearing blue rectangular sunglasses. It’s just weird and I have no further comment on it. I just want to know if he’s supposed to be blind, and if so, is that metaphorical? The advice here is for Ned (remember that’s the name we’re using for the Christian), to just say that being Christian is making him happier. He knows people, there’s a community, etc. Just like how we’re all vegans because a recent convert explained how awesome it is that they don’t eat meat anymore, the cool people they meet at the co-op, and how paying three times as much for arugula is so totes awesome. This isn’t really advice for Ned because everyone hates that person who won’t shut the hell up about the new thing they do. Whether it’s the person who just quit drinking, the aforementioned vegan, or the douche in the soul patch that totally doesn’t get why people watch television. However there’s a further bullet point, “In general, it’s best to avoid discussing the concept of eternal punishment for non-Christians with an atheist, which will turn into a debate. If someone feels like you’re trying to “save” them, it can seem condescending and frustrating for your friend.”

Yeah best to avoid the bad parts, once they’re sucked in they can deal with all of that then. Look, the Hell thing is integral. The reason it starts the debate is because the atheist isn’t going to go along with the plan. Hell is a problem because depending on the type of Christian there are different reasons you get eternally tortured. Is it because you weren’t a good person? Maybe, but “good” is a vague concept, and if you didn’t say the right magic words it doesn’t matter how good you are. If you weren’t baptized, according to some versions, you go to hell no matter what you did in life. Then there’s the question of purpose: eternal torture = justice. How? There’s no possibility of parole, even if you fully recant all of your sins. Best to avoid the tricky subjects we wouldn’t want Ned to begin questioning his own religion.

Step II: Establish a common language

Another excellent point, and not just for this conversation. In any kind of debate it’s best to lay down what the words mean. I do this in my conspiracy course, and it’s especially important in religious conversations.

Step III: Don’t try to debate the specifics of the Bible

A discussion between a believer and a non-believer doesn’t need to be a debate about science, or creationism, or an intricate dissection of the creation of the world as discussed in Genesis. Discuss faith in terms of your church, writings of Early church and personal experience of it. What does it mean to you, to be a Christian? That’s got nothing to do with dinosaur bones and the age of the earth. Avoid these subjects. 

This guide is telling Ned to avoid the subject of talking about the specifics of the book which lay down the foundation for the entire religion. I’ll say this to Ned, it’s probably best you heed this advice but not for them, for you. Pew Research polls indicate time and time again, that atheists/non-believers know the most about the Bible coming in second only to Orthodox Jews. So Ned, don’t get into this fight it won’t work for you. You don’t want to find out that there is no Old Testament prophecy regarding Jesus, and the one everyone keeps referring to, within the context of it being given, has to do with an utterly different situation. You also don’t want to get into an argument that reveals an omniscient deity getting very little correct in his book and making some egregious errors (rabbits chewing their cud for instance). That’s before we even start on the contradictions, the weird laws, the horrible moral advice, treatment of women, and the rules that are laid out that the average evangelical wouldn’t want to follow anyway. Definitely avoid the book, at all cost.

Step IV: Try to understand the perspective of your friend

Good solid advice here. The author even assumes that not all atheists are mad at god, or were hurt by someone religious pushing them into non-belief. This is a huge step. Occasionally when someone finds out that I’m an Atheist, they’ll ask, “so what happened?” They expect that I have a dead relative or some kind of abuse, and I just say I had lots of questions and then there’s Tom Cruise (seriously). No tragedy pushed me into it but Christian media seems to think this is the only path for a believer to apostasy. The problem with the questions, I’ll explain, is that no one had answers other than “we don’t ask those types of questions.” Ned, if he’s coming at me, will have to answer those questions, and yes I’ll want empirical evidence as well.

Step V: Let your friend try to convert you

This is also good advice. See things from both sides, I think my side will always win because there’s no faith at work over here, but nevertheless I can turn each one of these examples on Ned. What’s so great about being an atheist? I get to do all the things you do, and I can sleep in on Sunday. I do all the holidays, but don’t have to go to Church for any of them. It’s fantastic. I get to read whatever book I want, and only like the books that mean something to me, without having any of them forced on me. It’s good stuff. My morality isn’t bogged down by Bronze age agricultural rules and tribal law, I can adapt to changing circumstances. If someone isn’t bothering me, I don’t have to think about it or condemn that person. Now, Ned, what have you got?

 

How to Persuade an Atheist to Become a Christian

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this article. In my personal life there’s been significant changes, and it was probably an idle search for something that led to me go down a hole…you know how that goes. Anyway this is an article written on wikihow as a step by step instruction for a Christian (assuming evangelical) to convince their atheist friend to abandon their non-theistic ways. I quickly bookmarked the page for use here. Usually these kinds of guides are full of bible quotes: which are genuinely ineffective because it’s a clear case of special pleading. You have to believe in the authority of the Bible to be convinced of the quotes to begin with. Same goes with people who claim “you should be a [insert religion here] because my [priest/imam/rabbi] said you will find only eternal suffering if you don’t.” If you don’t believe these people have any authority, their words aren’t going to convince you either. It’s why I’m always skeptical of stories of atheists who are convinced by the Bible or story of Jesus: that story isn’t convincing unless you already accept a number of premises which by doing so means you were already a believer. I haven’t read through this in anything other than a brief skim so it’s happening in the closest thing to real time for this medium. It’s broken into subsections which I’m labelling with letters and then steps that I’m using numbers for. My readers aren’t stupid, you’ll figure it out. Also we’re just going to call the Christian “Ned” (as in Flanders) for the sake of brevity.

A: Approaching the Subject

1: Put yourself in your friend’s shoes: The writer notes that Ned should imagine that someone is trying to convince them “to reject your salvation in Christ.” This should show Ned that high pressure sales aren’t going to work, and that this may be a long process. They shouldn’t lecture either. Alright, that’s good advice. If you’re going to have the conversation this is a good starting point. An outright attack will make anyone defensive, it’s not a good strategy and it cuts both ways. Pointing out contradictions and inaccuracies in the bible, for instance, only confuses people who think that it’s a literal record, but it doesn’t convince them to be atheists. So far so good but then this happens: “Realize that a large percentage of atheists used to believe in God, but was hurt somehow in their faith (at church, by another religious person, church goer, such as a Christian, etc.) and have converted to atheism. This is not true for another large percentage of atheists, of course.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, yes a lot atheists used to be believers, that’s just simple numbers. Atheists in the US are between 9-18% of the population so a simple numbers game would tell us that the odds of a person being born and raised atheist is low. However, the “hurt somehow in their faith” is bullshit. This is an accusation that goes around popularized by movies like “God’s Not Dead” and it’s sequel. I was never hurt in my faith by a person. I’m not angry at god, I don’t believe that it exists or that if it does, it has any interest in us or our religious devotion. This is a problem of definition, if a person isn’t Christian because they are angry at god, it doesn’t make them an atheist. You also don’t convert to atheism, you just top being religious. There’s no organization to join, or book you have to buy. You just stop going to Church and stop praying. Ned’s going to have a weird conversation if he walks into it thinking this. Another point is that the author is just making up percentages. A large percentage are this? Give me a number, or a citation. Then we should also note that this isn’t true for a different large percentage either.

2: Choose a Convenient Place and Time to have a Dialog on Matters of Believing in God

Another solid piece of advice. I worked at a cable company in Toledo OH, and once some co-workers found out I wasn’t religious they just wanted to chat and chat about it. I wasn’t even a solid atheist then but they really went after me about it. No real criticism on this point.

3: Have a Genuine arms-length conversation

In short, the idea is to actually have a conversation and not lecture the other person about sins, accusations, or getting preachy. I guess here, the author should have written: “don’t make it personal” because I’m not entirely sure what a “arms-length” conversation is. Also I’m unclear about what a shock-jock approach is supposed to be as well. Ned is supposed to be open and honest or else he could end up causing irreparable harm to the friendship. Yeah that might be something to worry about while you are thinking that despite your friend’s good behavior he’s still going to hell because he doesn’t believe the right words. If you want to avoid harming the friendship maybe don’t try and change their entire way of thinking. Then this happens, “Discriminating tastes in food and in life’s issues, for some good stuff, means you have an angle (a stand), a point of view.” I don’t know what this means.

4: Don’t Try to Convert Your friend or to Present Ultimate Ideas (don’t ask for conclusions or offer stark dilemmas of Heaven versus Hell)

Ned is supposed to get the person interested by presenting “Jesus Christ as the Son of God in your personal, fulfilling life, following Jesus. Show the Christian life as fulfilling, exciting, attractive to others and they’ll be more interested, curious to learn more about the way you live your life as a Christian.”

In other words Ned is supposed to make his pitch by saying that it works for him. He’s happy and wouldn’t you like to be happy as well? Alright, it’s not a bad method but I don’t see how that will work. The problem that the author has, is that he doesn’t understand what an Atheist is. I lead a fulfilling life, it’s relatively exciting, but I also get to sleep in on Sundays and I don’t have to avoid eating meat on Fridays during Lent. I’m also not afraid of Hell, or Demons, or whether or not two guys get married. Ned isn’t offering me anything here. I could also say that I get to read/watch whatever I want (depending on the sect of Christianity). As an Atheist, you’ve got to give me something more than just “I like X, so you should do X as well.” That doesn’t work when Mac users try to convince me it’s not going to work here either.

Again the author has some decent advice, one is to realize that you should not be arguing facts. Yeah, that’s a good point: because Ned won’t be arguing facts, he’ll be arguing religion. Now there are facts regarding religion, but not observable, independent facts that don’t require a shared perspective for them to be true. Ned is cautioned against getting into a “tic-for-tat” conversation. What the hell is that? I think he meant to say “tit-for-tat” but couldn’t. If you’re going to try and make the conversion as an adult you have to be unafraid of talking like one. This isn’t about dropping “fuck” every now and then, but if the saying is “tit-for-tat” use that. Otherwise it comes across as childish and silly.

We’ll break here and continue next week. There’s some good stuff coming in the next section so be sure to “tune in.”

 

A New Gospel

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments in the last ten years or so concerning the mixture of politics and religion. My consistent position is that politics and religion should not officially mix. I stress “officially” because it would be wrong to prevent a religious person from entering politics, but their should be no official religious position of the government. What irks me is the faux oppression they try and brag about. “I don’t know why people hate us just for worshipping Jesus,” or “They just hate us because our conservative views are just like Jesus.” Or some variation of that theme.

Let’s clear the air, no one hates these people because they are Christian, what I hate is the sheer blatant hypocrisy of the religious right’s position. I mean, they can’t stand up and talk about how the country is going to hell because we’re abandoning religion while they vote, or tell others to vote, in a manner that is completely contradictory to the very words of the book that allegedly instructs their entire life. A frequent rejoinder in the podcast “God Awful Movies” is that the people who are trying to end war, feed everyone, and cure disease are portrayed as the villains (especially in the apocalypse movies) who must be stopped at all costs. Despite the gospels explaining that feeding the sick, ending war (sort of), and curing illness is the duty of the Christians. I’m obviously not a religious person, but if there is a god, I doubt it appreciates the lip service instead of actions.

Issues such as poverty and healthcare the self-proclaimed, most religious, seem to have the position that the poor should starve and the sick die unless they can find a way to help themselves. Refugees and those in dire situations need to be turned away unless we can 100% certify that they are not dangerous. Both of those positions are in absolute stark contrast to the teachings of the bible, and apparently it’s up to an atheist to elucidate this (to be fair I’ve mentioned the various Christian groups that have come out publicly against the immigration bans).

With all that in mind, I’ve decided to undertake the task of rewriting some of the stories so that Christian theocrats, the ultra right, and the oddly named “freedom caucus” can have a biblical basis for their political views. We’re starting with “The Good Samaritan.”

Luke 10:25|And, Behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (26) He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? (27) And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all they mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (28) And he said unto him, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” (29) But he, realizing that he hadn’t read the law because there was a lot of it, and the answer he gave isn’t actually in there, sought clarification, “And who is my neighbor?” (30) And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stole his raiment, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (31) And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him he thought, “meh, that’s probably someone else’s problem and I have these scrolls to pass out to all of the farmers so that they become aware of the crime of planting two different crops in the same fields.” (32) Likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side thinking, “I will tell the first Legion I see, but for now I must protest those natural philosophers who are claiming that rabbits don’t chew their cuds.” (33) But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him he thought, “This person is in great need of care, probably due to a vicious assault. I should help that person.” (34) As he was getting ready to help, another Samaritan approached and lo, he did ask, “What are you doing?” (35) The man did answer, “helping this man who was attacked.” (36) The second man did answer in reply, “You know not what you do, for this man could be a robber himself, he could be a murderer, or beggar. Do you know this man, of where he is from, or wherefore he ends up lying in this road?” (37) “I do not, he is to me as you are.” (38) “Then must needs, leave him be. For these questions we know the answer not, and the risk be too great if we bring him to our hearth. No, better to leave him to help himself, rather than he learn to live on the charity of others.” (39)  Jesus finished asking, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” (40) And he said, “All save one, the first thus because his errand was to spread the law, the second as to dispute teaching contrary to the law, and the fourth thus for making sure that the injured person was no threat.” (41) Teacher, the lawyer replied, “what about the third?” (42) “The third only invites calamity unto his house. For is it not written in the law that one should take care with those in whom thy charity lies?” (43) Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. (44) And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. (45) Martha, was busy with the serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” (46) And Jesus answered and said unto her, “No.”

 

The Outrage Machine

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Is it just me or do people want to be outraged at something? Not real things, not things that actually matter or things that are true. In some way I get it, it’s easier to just read a headline and repost. It’s much easier than reading an article and finding out what actually happened, or reading a few articles on the same subject because then, and only then, will the reader actually understand what is going on. It’s closely related to what is now the slander of being called an “elitist” in reference to someone who knows things. If you have an education, if you understand things, that is now apparently a bad thing. Why? Because anyone can be stupid, but being smart, being versed in a subject is hard. It takes work, while having mere emotional reactions armed with a few contrite phrases (“political reasons,” “fake news,” “elitist”) doesn’t take any work.

Last month (February 2017) a Pennsylvania school board agreed to remove a monument of the ten commandments from Valley Junior-Senior High School. A lawsuit was originally filed in 2012, but due to some technical issues had to make it’s way through the circuits. The school district settled and is going to have to reimburse legal fees to the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) to the tune of 40,000 dollars. In a settlement this is a normal practice. The defendant agreed with the plaintiff and in any lawsuit where money is changing hands the agreement usually confers some recompense to the winner of the case. The school’s insurance company is going to pay the money, not the school. I’m not sure how exactly this translates into tax dollars, but it’s fact that must be stated.

Understanding this type of issue is a complicated endeavor. One must first understand why the lawsuit was brought in the first place. Unlike most of the sites that I checked, it was not to line the pockets of the FFRF, who received the 40K of the 163k settlement. An amount, which they claimed was not a full reimbursement and which we have no reason to think that a five year settlement going through three different courts was going to cost less than 40k. I note it also because in Pennsylvania, a law is being offered in response, that would ban legal fees from being a part of settlement amounts. Or at least legislation is being drafted, which is a terrible idea: because it means that if I sue for negligence because of something objectively negligent against McDonalds, they can bury me with lawyers knowing that I won’t be able financially to fight them even if they know they are wrong. Again, I don’t know how much it costs to hire a lawyer to put on one of these lawsuits, so I’ll just have to take their word for it. Just as I don’t know how much it costs to move a statue.

The removal of the monument is not about money, it’s about not allowing a public institution to endorse a particular religion. Despite what the theocrats want you to think: there’s no way that a ten commandments statue isn’t a religious statue. They like to claim that the laws of the US were founded on the Ten Commandments, which is patently false. The first four are purely religious. The fifth, while not religious is not a legally enforceable item (honor your parents). Rules 6 & 8, are the legally punishable (Murder and Stealing respectively), 7 only matters within a specific type of legal situation (divorce proceedings). Nine is trickier because there’s some debate over what it actually means. If it means the common thing: thou shalt not lie, then it’s not a legal issue. However if it is a prohibition against bearing false witness in legal matters, then that’s the legal issue of perjury. The final commandment, it is just a prohibition on thought crime and not legally actionable either. In all we only have two commandments that could be said to be legally inspiring with two more that could be considered “sort of…but…”

It’s difficult to understand that while the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, it’s part of our system. The Bill of Rights specifically prohibits the state from endorsing or prohibiting any particular religion, and placing a religious statue in a school does that. Jefferson explained the purpose of the amendment as being just that. The legal result is that you have an all or nothing situation: either you have to allow all of the religions or none of them. Why? Because we don’t want the government getting into the situation of deciding which religions are true and which are not. This is especially important when you consider historical context in which Catholics and Puritans in the 18th century would not have considered themselves members of the same religion. Some Evangelical Christians don’t consider Catholics and Mormons to be Christians now, but imagine how it must have been two hundred years ago. Wisely they decided that it was not the business of the state to make these kinds of adjudications (Scientology and Raeliens included).

Yet, that’s not the issue getting thrown around the internet. It’s all about how this settlement, the court, and the lawsuit; are all about persecuting Christians. Why? Because it’s easier to sell the outrage without really having to understand the issue. Nothing will get a news story spread around faster than a headline which conveys the message that Christians are continuing to be persecuted in a country where it is a) not happening and b) where the religion makes up a strong majority (when you put all of the denominations under the same banner). The headline “School board settles Constitutional violation law suit” isn’t going to get the same travel.

Interestingly some more digging unearthed the reason for the statue in the first place: as a promotion for the movie “The Ten Commandments.” So if we think about, a monument to a religion wasn’t removed a film advertisement was.

 

Wizard Battle!!!!!

March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

So Donald Trump is president. That much we know, and I promise this post isn’t about him. This also has a lot of people riled up, not just people that voted for Hillary Clinton, or wanted Bernie Sanders, or even those actual Republicans who are now in the unenviable position of not knowing what exactly they are supposed to do. His supporters are also riled up, wondering why people who don’t support him have the gall to not support him. They ironically think that questioning the president is wrong somehow, or that opposing his positions and proposals is treason. Lots of people are riled up, witches included.

Yes I said witches, but if that term is offensive include also wizards, warlocks, mages, bards (+9 level only). A group, or a coven, began passing around a document with the material components of the spell, the invocation, and a bunch of explanations of what kind of spell it is (binding). The purpose of this is to harangue the presidency from a spiritual side, which is probably overkill at this point–but then again maybe it’s working (it’s not, it’s really not).

I never got into this aspect of religion. I’ve both heard and read other atheists journey toward unbelief and they follow a certain 4 step pattern: raised religious, began to question, angry rejection, adoption of a different religion, realization that too was bunk. Step three is where we sometimes drop for a bit. I went the Eastern route: Taoism (or Daosim); but I personally know some of those who parked in Wiccanism, the Occult, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Part of the appeal is that the rules are different. For me, one of the appeals of Daoism was that there were no ceremonies, with the Occult religions it’s the exact opposite.

One can argue the differences between one religion and any other: but one thing they all have in common is that you aren’t supposed to ask the divine for revenge or to harm another. In the Catholic tradition, it’s a sin and god doesn’t grant those kinds of requests. Most of the religions of the world have a similar prohibition. Sure one can ask for strength to defeat one’s enemies, but not direct interference. My theory on this is two fold: the first is to make forbidden that kind of desire, a legitimate concern for the well being of others. The person shouldn’t have the kind of anger/hate in them that would cause them to need the very underpinning of the world to go against a particular individual. The second is not because of what will happen if it does work but rather what will happen when it does not. It brings out into the light the fact that prayers/spells don’t work, that saying the right combination of words in a particular order has no bearing on the outside world. Whether you are saying it with a large group of people on a Sunday morning, or by yourself in front of four bowls holding representatives of the elements (how is a feather representative of air? It’s not part of air, it’s just a thing that moved through it at one time).

From the atheist perspective it’s pretty silly and not worth taking any more serious than I have given it. Except of course unless you do…

The information about the spell/curse from the witches of the world came from the BBC, and I just followed the link to the original source. The BBC, among other news agencies, just covered  as a puff piece. A “look at this silliness” kind of story. However other groups are taking this as absolutely serious. Most notable conservative Christians who think witchcraft is a real thing. Why shouldn’t they? The bible treats it as real. Just scrolling through a couple of forums discussing this subject is both amusing and depressing. People on these forums are genuinely concerned that the curse will work. So what’s the answer to a magic spell? More magic of course.

In what has to be the least interesting magic battle since the end of the first Harry Potter movie (when we already knew there were going to be a bunch of movies and the series of books that followed the story) the fundamentalists are encouraging their zealots to counter pray against the spells. The last link is a facebook group for people opposing the curse and to join in for the counter spell.

In this corner we have a small group of people all reading the same poem in front of a series of bowls, a pinch of Sulphur, and a picture of the president…and in this corner we have a larger group of people all hoping they fail. The confrontation on the pinnacle of Orthanc this is not. Witchcraft isn’t a thing, which is problematic because when the spell, even if the spell was to sow chaos in the administration, doesn’t work the prayer warriors are going to count it as a victory. If events of the world coincide with what the spell was supposed to do (i.e. sow chaos in the administration) then the witches will count that as a win. However, there’s no winners here because the spirit world cannot interact with the material world. For one, immaterial cannot influence material, and two, there’s no such thing as the spirit world to begin with. The gods, or whatever, are beyond the cares of our fickle lives and experiences so why, to ask the Epicurean question, would they care? How does saying a thing move them to action.

For the prayer people, why do you give credence to these people? Your god’s plan cannot be so tenuous that a bunch of people you would regard as “losers” or “worshippers of a false religion” can say the right combination to upset it. If so, why is that your god? To the witches, you don’t need spells, you need action. Townhalls are erupting with people who are going to do a great deal more to influence this administration than your talking. Maybe you should cast a “I’m going to vote this time” spell and see if that works.